[EDITORIALS]U.S. concern about press billOn Monday, the U.S. State Department released its annual reports on other countries’ human rights practices during the year 2004. Regarding South Korea, the report was mostly positive, saying that the government “generally respected the human rights of its citizens.” But it also pointed out that some problems remain, stating that “police and prison personnel at times physically and verbally abused detainees,” and mentioning restrictions imposed by the National Security Law.
What especially draws our attention is the section on freedom of speech and the press. The report cites concern about the press bill the National Assembly passed at the end of last year; as the report states, “The ruling party introduced a bill that would limit the market share of any one daily newspaper to 30 percent. Under the bill, it would be illegal for the combined market share of any three newspapers to be more than 60 percent.” The report noted that non-governmental organizations have expressed concern that the law would be used to control the newspaper industry
As we have repeatedly pointed out, there is a problem with putting a newspaper under the same restrictions that an ordinary business company dominating a market would face under the fair trade law. Not only is the press bill stricter than the fair trade law (which limits a single company’s market share to 50 percent, and any three companies’ combined share to 75 percent), but it treats newspapers differently from broadcasting companies, which face no restrictions on market share.
The bill’s requirement that newspapers report circulation figures and advertising revenue to a committee has been constantly criticized as unconstitutional. Already, petitions challenging it have been filed with the Constitutional Court, which will have to issue a ruling soon.
A report by the U.S. government cannot be an absolute standard. Nevertheless, the fact that someone abroad has raised concerns about the press bill cannot be overlooked. The International Press Institute sent a letter to the Blue House stating that the bill would harm freedom of the press and democracy in Korea. The bill goes into effect in July; the government needs to devise additional measures to go along with it, to make sure that freedom of the press is not violated. Also, the Constitutional Court should rule on the pending petitions before it comes into effect, to prevent confusion.